Whale Talk and Chris Crutcher--Challenged Too Often
October 02, 2010
Chris Crutcher is probably one of the most challenged contemporary authors in the United States right now. He is also one of the most real, most caring, and most intelligent people I’ve ever met. I have been lucky to chat with him on several different occasions. When I took a Young Adult literature class in college, I was introduced to Crutcher through his novel, Whale Talk, a book that examines the necessity of tolerance across races, genders, and abilities, while also telling the story of a bunch of misfit swimmers who overcome the challenges of the athletic world at their high school.
Whale Talk has been challenged in Alabama, Iowa, South Carolina, and Delaware primarily due to the profane language used in it. Especially hard for people to deal with are the pages in which a young, black girl role-plays the part of her abuser during a therapy session, and screams out the same racial insults that had been screamed at her all her life. People complain that teens don’t need to be exposed to such language, and that it is unnecessary within the book.
Crutcher’s response to each of these specific challenges, as well as any other less formal accusations that he “overdoes it” with this language, is to point out that all of his work is based on his real experiences as a teacher, a director of an at-risk school, and a therapist and child protection advocate. He has met and worked with scores of kids, and has heard and witnessed stories that would break your heart for the cruelty these kids have gone through. Crutcher and anyone who has ever worked first-hand with students know that teens are exposed to much worse than some bad language in this world.
What’s remarkable to me is that anyone who has read Whale Talk could be so offended by the words that they miss the reason the words are there. This book shows us the life of a child who was so abused by her step-father; she tries to clean up her black skin with steel wool. It shows us a teenager whose mother and boyfriend were so doped up when he was a child, that he was tied to a pipe for days and ended up losing his leg. It shows us the evil of people who are so close-minded that they would attack anyone who is different from them, and it shows the hard, incredible battles that are being fought by good people who won’t abide this evil. The situations in this book are real, gut-wrenchingly, and need real language to convey them. We are meant to see this as the truth it is, not as some make-believe story. We are meant to hate the villains, not merely disagree with them.
Whale Talk is powerful. Chris Crutcher’s writing is powerful. Read this book; it will change your world.
Tags: Books, book review, banned books